I bought this t-shirt

I bought this t-shirt at UCC General Synod in Baltimore and wore it home yesterday. I’ve admired it on friends’ social media and went to the Exhibit Hall looking for it on Monday. The back of the shirt lists all kinds of Black Lives that Matter, including women and trans* people. I especially feel convicted by the line on the front in smaller print, “White Silence is Violence.”
When I stopped in Shrewsbury, PA, to get an iced coffee, I got out of my car in the Starbucks parking lot and wondered if anyone would react. I don’t wear politics on my clothes much. In the town where I live, I’m running an action as an LGBTQ+ person every time I grocery shop, go to the doctor’s office, or attend a school or sports event with my wife. When I was in a pulpit, I preached Black Lives Matter, but I’m not in a pulpit now and don’t know how likely it is that I ever will be again, at least around here.
At Starbucks, the family parked next to me included a White dad, a Black mom, and their two teenaged daughters. I stood in line with the dad while the rest of the family used the restroom. I wondered what they thought of the shirt. I know in my town we’ve heard People of Color say they don’t want attention drawn for fear of getting racists more riled up than they already are. I don’t want to make things worse for any particular person in order to make a larger point, do I?
While I stood waiting for my drink, the mom passed me on her way to the door. As our eyes met, she said, “I like your shirt.” Then we both said, at the same time, “Thank you,” and she touched my arm, and we both had tears in our eyes.
I am not looking for cookies here. That moment in the Starbucks felt unearned, although I appreciated the moment of connection. I’m pondering the difference between sharing articles online, which is easy for me to do, not only because I do a lot of my work online, but because it feels safe, and actually showing up, which I don’t often do because … why? I have a list of reasons (a few) and excuses (quite a few).
Mostly, being transgressive feels scary, which I conclude is the point. We can’t make change by staying in our safe zones.
The back of the shirt. Buy it here.

You changed our lives (a prayer for pastors)

When You called us into ministry,
You changed our lives.

Service became discipleship –
an awareness that any good we do
is from You and for You.

Caring became vocation –
a commitment to love others
on Your behalf.

Prayer became preparation –
a discipline not just for self-improvement
but for Your people.

Contemplation became profession –
an arrangement of divergent strands
for Your glory.

Worship became work –
a commitment of all our gifts,
given for You.

Help us to equip all people
for Your worship, for Your work
in the world.

When You called us into baptism,
You changed our lives.


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a God-shaped mystery (a Trinity Sunday prayer for pastors)

I fear I do not explain You well.

I get the pronouns wrong
when I speak of You;
somehow an “all” creeps in,
suggesting three separate
entities, functions, realities.

The intellectual approach –
(explanations of doctrine,
refutations of heresies,
the specialties of some Internet guy)
feels flat to me:
a demand that truth be granted
and no questions be asked
does not turn a hard concept
into metaphysics, much less poetry.

It seems like a God-shaped mystery
should be felt, not reasoned:
a heavenly triad in three voices;
a sumptuous braid of silk ropes;
a fidget spinner blurred to a circle.

Yet all my analogies fail the test.

Perhaps I am an inevitable heretic,
trying too hard to get it right.

Is it enough to feel awed
by how You loved us into being,
and how You became one of us,
and how You are always on the move?

I hope so.

Amen.

Push Us Out (a Pentecost prayer for pastors)

Pastors and preachers, this is my prayer for you.

O, Holy Spirit,

Help us to interpret you.

Give us speech that tells your truth by transcending barriers, trustworthy and true, convincing and convicting.

Help us to understand each other.

Give us words that mean something to those who listen, bringing the aggressive blur of violence, hate, and fear into focus on your peace, love, and mercy.

Help us to stand in your truth.

Give us a key to read the signs in the dreams and visions you send us, to make your will so plain that all people can comprehend it.

Help us past what feels safe.

Come into the places we meet and push us out into the world with Holy Wind and Fire.

May we speak your words with courage, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

What’s Next?

Smith College MomThis morning, we get in the car and travel to a small town in Massachusetts, which will be over-filled with parents and other relatives gathering to participate in graduation ceremonies at four colleges. Our daughter will graduate from Smith on Sunday morning, and in the ongoing competition for who had the best speaker. Mine years ago was Garry Trudeau at the height of Doonesbury fame; #1 Son had then-Senator Obama in 2008, with Secret Service agents on the rooftops surrounding the ceremony. We all think LP wins with Oprah.

Passionate about her major, Japanese, LP will leave in July to be an Assistant Language Teacher in the JET program for a year. Or two. Or five. Although we still have one child at home, we’re clear that this is a new phase in our family life. All three of the older children are far away, and they are game pieces in motion, one of our sons swapping the East Coast of the US for the West, and the other preparing for the reverse. I keep changing the cities in my Weather app. Maybe it’s a little silly to get alerts about pollen in Los Angeles when I’m sitting at my dining room table in South Central Pennsylvania, but it reminds me that wherever we are, we all live under the same sky. And what do I expect after urging them to pursue the things they love?

A friend who served as a missionary in South Africa once told me that her aim there was to put herself out of a job, to empower the women she worked with to support themselves with the sewing and crafting her ministry helped enable. That feels like the work I’ve been doing as a parent, slowly getting out of the way, trusting that these children – no, these adults – can make their way in the world, as reasonably good members of the human community. It’s both a help and a challenge to have an understanding of call. My children watched me wrestle with my call to ministry, accompanied me through my theological education, gathered at my Commencement 15 years ago this week. Their feelings probably resembled mine now, some mixture of relief and pride and “what’s next?”

What’s next is this: Go out there and be the person God made you to be.

It’s a good word for a big day; it’s a good word for every day.


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader, May 18, 2017.

Bible Sisters (a book review and giveaway)

I am always looking for devotional material. I particularly like books that will carry me through a season, whether in my life or from the liturgical calendar. Looking back I remember that I read a particular book in a Lent of discouragement or during a summer of discernment. A good devotional can be a support and a partner in the walk of faith. Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible (Abingdon Press) offers a year of companionship, and because it is undated, the reader can begin at any point on the calendar and have a companion for the 365 days to come.

Scroll down to enter the giveaway!

The author, the Rev. Dr. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks, brings her scholarship and life experience to bear in each of the brief reflections on a short scripture passage, tailoring the material to the lives of women today. I’ll confess I immediately thumbed to the back to look for indexes and liked what I found, listings both by scripture and by name (or “The woman who…” in the case of unnamed women). Some women who appear in major Biblical stories appear on more than one day, giving both the author and the reader a chance to look at the same story from different vantage points.

Having recently led a retreat on the stories of the women who anoint Jesus in all four gospels, I was interested to see how Brooks included them, and from there I skipped around to find other favorite Bible women. I especially appreciated Brooks’ take on Martha in Luke 10:40, where she begins, “I have always felt that in the telling of the incident, Martha was not treated fairly.” She brings us into the moment with Martha, whose efforts to bring order out of chaos are unaided by her sister.

If you don’t know your Hebrew Bible women well, the book will be an education.

I would recommend the book for anyone curious to learn more about women in scripture as a devotional practice, and ready to learn from a scholar. This is not a “Jesus Calling” book that tries to speak for God but rather like talking with a smart friend about women long ago who faced the same kinds of challenges we strive to meet with faith today.

To enter a giveaway of the book leave a comment here or on my Facebook page, or retweet the post link, before 9 p.m. Eastern on Monday, May 22nd. I will use a random number generator to choose a winner.

Brooks is Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Preaching and director of the Styberg Preaching Institute, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, and she is an elder in full connection, New York Conference, The United Methodist Church.


Many thanks to Abingdon Press for reaching out to RevGalBlogPals with copies of the book for review. I received two copies (one to give away) in return for my honest review.

Deliberate Acts of Kindness (a book review)

Ever wonder how to get started in some kind of volunteer service? In this increasingly unchurched era, many people who might have plugged in through a faith community in the past don’t have that obvious set of connections, yet they feel a pull to do good. We see it in the generosity expressed through donations to GoFundMe and Kickstarter. People have an impulse to help other people. But how can we know where to start?

Meredith Gould,  author of Desperately Seeking Spirituality and The Social Media Gospel, offers a road map to the service seeker in Deliberate Acts of Kindness: A Field Guide to Service as a Spiritual Practice (ClearFaith Publishing). This is a revised 2nd edition – the first published in 2002 – that takes into account the rise of social media and new means of communication. For my readers who are already plugged into the life of the church and its web of service opportunities, the information shared may seem unremarkable, but that simply points up how out of touch folk engaged in the institutional church can be from those who don’t see a list of volunteer suggestions in a printed bulletin each Sunday morning. Where can those service seekers begin?

Meredith Gould

Gould has it covered, from a brief introduction to the broad theological stances of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, to tools for discernment, to pragmatic assessments of whether a particular service opportunity really is the one to which we are called. Have you started volunteering and been asked to serve on a non-profit board? Gould supplies a great list of questions to ask before agreeing. Finally, she explores the shadow side of service in some depth. In this time of great need combined with a decline in church participation, she offers an important resource to be shared with both the young unchurched and the rebooting “dones” searching for ways to be of use without doing so through membership in a church.

The length of the book does not allow for depth in the descriptions of different faiths. I would be interested in further discussion with the author about her description of Christian beliefs around heaven and hell, for instance, which are not as firm as she describes on my progressive end of the theological spectrum, where Christian Universalists reside.

While this is a great guidebook for someone just beginning to seek out service opportunities, I think it’s also a great check for churches wondering if they are using their volunteer hours well. What gifts do we have collectively? Where can they best be put to use? Are we serving from a genuine call, or have we gotten into a rut or become resentful of a long-standing commitment?

The book is valuable as a practical resource, but also as a deeper tool for discernment. Contemplative writing exercises throughout the book are well worth the cost ($18.00 for a slim volume), worth pursuing as an individual 0r as a tool for a church group trying to figure out where God might be calling a particular institution right now. As always, I find Meredith Gould’s matter-of-fact approach to her topic deeply helpful.


I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.